By Daniel Hunter

New PwC research reveals women in the UK are less likely to be in work, experience lower job security and greater pay inequality than their counterparts in other developed countries.

This is according to PwC’s new Women in Work Index, which shows that the UK was ranked in 18th position out of 27 OECD countries in 2011 on five key indicators of female economic empowerment: the equality of earnings with men; the proportion of women in work both in absolute terms and relative to men; the female unemployment rate: and the proportion of women in full-time employment.

The research reveals that the UK has made improvements on the majority of the indicators since 2000, but this progress has been slower than other countries and has stalled since the beginning of the credit crunch in 2007. This has pushed the UK down to 18th position in the Women in Work Index in 2011, from 13th in 2000 and 14th in 2007.

The Nordic countries lead the Index, with Norway in pole position, followed by Sweden and Denmark. These three countries have consistently occupied the top 3 positions in 2000, 2007 and 2011. Finland was in fifth place in 2011, just behind New Zealand in fourth.

Yong Jing Teow, author of the report and economist at PwC, said: “It is worrying that the UK’s progress in encouraging more women into work and closing the gender pay gap has all but ground to a halt since the recession hit. While most other OECD countries have continued to move ahead, our progress appears to have stalled.

“Norway leads the pack when it comes to women’s economic empowerment due to its high rate of female participation in the labour force and a low gender pay gap. Women in the UK are struggling against a backdrop of rising female unemployment since 2007, above average pay inequality and fewer full-time employment opportunities.”

Margaret Cole, general counsel and executive board member at PwC, said: “At a time when the watchword for the UK economy is growth, encouraging greater economic empowerment for women has to be a priority to get the UK back on the road to recovery. It is worrying that increasing employment opportunities for women seems to have been pushed down organisations’ agendas since the recession.

“There is no one silver bullet for solving increasing female participation in the workforce. Actions need to be taken from the top of organisations. Businesses should be held to account over their female promotion pipelines and diversity goals. Young women want visible and aspirational role models at all levels and boards should be accountable for providing these.

“Without strong and accountable action from British businesses, it is hard to see how we can achieve any real change and move past tokenism.”

The analysis shows that the UK performs relatively well on the proportion of women in work (although less so than in 2000), but has one of the lowest shares of female employees in full-time jobs and the situation is getting worse. Only the Netherlands and Switzerland have lower proportions of women in full-time roles.

Gaenor Bagley, head of people and executive board member at PwC, said: “The low number of UK women in full-time roles is a concern. It is hard to see how women can improve their economic position without greater access to full-time roles.

“The high cost of childcare cannot be ignored as a factor, but businesses could be doing more to improve flexibility, maximise the use of technology and embrace real cultural change. Many companies are still trapped in the traditional nine to five mentality, which is forcing many women into part-time roles.

“The current workplace model is broken and does not provide enough flexibility. Without fundamental changes it is hard to see how any real progress can be made.”

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